Birdingpals Trip Report

Trip Report, Six Days Birding in Hungary - June 6 through 12, 2005 to meet the local Birdingpals
By Jim and Sandi Ruch, Ojai, California, USA

Highlighted by a White-tailed Eagle swooping just over our heads to take a Greylag Goose off the water, a pair of Saker Falcons, swarms of brilliant Bee-eaters, and, finally, a Great Bustard, our week from June 6 to 12, 2005 with Janos Matolcsy and Karoly Teleki  of their superb guides, was a wonderful experience.  My wife and I had six days available between meetings in Vienna and Budapest and we wanted both a good birding experience and an opportunity to see and learn about Hungary, particularly the life and land outside the cities.  We contacted Karoly by e-mail through the Hungarian Birdwatching website, and he proposed an itinerary that turned out to be just what we wanted.
Although we had blustery, sometimes rainy, weather part of the week, and most of the migrants had already moved on, we put the scope on 130 species, most of them new to us.
We started out in the Ferto-Hansag area of northwestern Hungary after Janos picked us up in Vienna.  Our first two nights we stayed in the charming new little Hotel Rozalia in the tiny village of Sarrod where we had a two-story suite with a kitchen and fireplace and a lovely garden where a nightingale sang.
We met out first local guide, Lazlo, and on our first afternoon in Hungary, hiked the canal banks and the marsh habitat at the southeast corner of Lake Ferto.  Geese, Black-headed Gulls, Lapwings, Great White Egrets, Grey and Purple herons and numerous ducks and shorebirds abounded including a Little Ringed Plover and an up close visit with the, new to us, Ferruginous Duck. We stalked the reed beds listening for both Reed Warblers and Great Reed Warblers until they both emerged and we could watch them sing.  At various times, a Red-backed Shrike sat obligingly nearby on his hunting perch.  At the end of the day, we toured the enormous Esterhazy Palace, where Hayden composed many of his works, and later went birding in the extensive palace gardens where we were nearly adopted by a young Great Spotted Woodpecker.
Dinner that night, our first taste of a traditional Hungarian meal, was at a local restaurant owned by a wine making family, and after dinner we visited their wine cellar in a  cave carved into the hill behind the restaurant.
Our trip included not only our local guides, but also the hotels and pensions, all of our meals, special excursions, and transportation - with Janos on the first two days and last two days and Karoly taking the middle two.  Because of the wet weather, they had to make some mid course adjustments, but everything was to our liking.  Not only that, we spent the week traveling with two gentlemen who know not only birds but the history, culture, economy and politics of Hungary and its neighbors, and who are absolutely fluent in English.
The second day, despite a cold wind and dark clouds, we hiked to a birding tower overlooking the ponds we had visited the day before.  There we watched a White-tailed Eagle, blissfully ignoring the screaming Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls and Lapwings, fly in a leisurely half circle around us and, with the rising sun behind him,  drop his long yellow legs and talons like airplane landing gear and snatch a Greylag Goose out the water.  Later in the morning, we visited the Hansag area and toured a local natural history museum designed to teach Hungarian school kids about the Hungarian environment. After lunch in a local pub, we drove to a harvested grain field where we glassed a huge oak tree standing by itself in the middle of the field.  We spotted first one, and then the other of a pair of Saker Falcons that had just raised a single youngster in that tree.  They put on a wonderful display soaring over the field together and landed in the tree to give us a fine view through the scope.  We then visited an ancient hunting lodge which houses an amazing taxidermy collection confiscated from a notorious poacher and then went to see a Bee-eater nesting area in clay cliffs where we were surrounded by these gem brilliant birds.  Nearby is an extensive marsh area that was drained during the communist era for poorly conceived agricultural projects and is now being reflooded and restored.  We then hiked into the deep woods and visited a Black Stork nest, being careful not to disturb them but getting a great look through the scope.  After birding all day in blustery weather we were tired enough to really enjoy our visit to a fabulous new spa facility in Sarvar with huge indoor/outdoor pools of hot thermal mineral waters.
The third day we packed up and left for Tata, but it was raining so hard that Karoly adjusted the schedule and took us for a morning tour around Budapest.  In the late afternoon we headed back north to Tata where we were lodged in the lovely lakeshore Casablanca Hotel.  That evening, we walked through the little old historic town of Tata on the Old Lake with a local lady, Katalin, while occasional raindrops fell through the tattered clouds, and got in a bit of birding around the old castle ruins.  Dinner at the hotel included wild mushroom soup and an excellent chicken goulash topped off by Hungarian pastry
On day four we were up at first light.  It was misting and windy when Karoly arrived with our second guide, Norbert but the woods were full of birds. We began with a long hike around the Old Lake and saw Great and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, Siskins, Serins, Greenfinches, Hawkfinches, Tits, Flycatchers, Buntings, and Thrushes.  We then drove to the Ferencmajor fish ponds and hiked to a birding blind on the wooded shore where we had lunch while watching a wide variety of water birds including Great Crested Grebes dancing across the water, Night Herons, and a Kingfisher flashing back and forth in the densely forested creek behind us.  We then went on a long, wet, and windy hike around the ponds to a forest inhabited by black woodpeckers, but the wind driven rain kept them hidden from our view despite our guide's attempt to call them. We were rewarded, however when we got back to our hotel by news of a Long Eared Owl nearby. The hotel owner, watching us head out again into the rain, opined that bird watchers are "obsessed". We soon located a damp juvenile owl and soon our guide spotted the adult in a nearby tree who kept us amused with frequent shakes of her feathers to shake off the rain alternating with tail twitches each time she called to the youngster.  We dried out and drove through a series of little villages up on a high ridge overlooking the Danube north of Budapest to the Hilltop winery, one of the finest in Hungary.  The country's long tradition of fine wines suffered grievously during the communist period  and it has taken some years to return to quality production.  Hilltop Winery has won a number of prestigious awards in recent years, and deservedly so, as we found out on a private tour of their plant and wine tasting in their cellars.  Hilltop also has an excellent restaurant where we enjoyed not only fine Hungarian food but fine Hungarian wine.
Day five had us up early when Janos arrived for a 6:30 breakfast and we traveled southeast around Budapest toward the Kiskunsag.  We picked up our next guide, Bence, near his village and were soon in the middle of another little village street looking for a very elusive Redstart, a rare visitor to Hungary, who had been spotted by one of the local birders.  Bence, a birdcall expert like all of our guides, could hear the Redstart.  So Bence followed the bird from house to house and tree to tree until at last, the Redstart deigned to sit and sing for us.  It was later, in a nearby wood, that we finally were able to watch a nightingale sing, a very important item on our list.
Then we were off for a long and full(80 species) day in the Kiskunsag pusta.  We hiked out along canals into the wide, open fields of the pusta with Herons, Egrets, Spoonbills, a Crane, Black-tailed Godwits, and Curlews, also Warblers, Stonechats, and Buntings singing in the reeds and occasionally posing for a close look.  We saw Common Terns, Whiskered Terns, and dozens of the wonderfully flamboyant White-winged Black Terns feeding in the marshy fields all around us.  Finally, out in the midst of all this bird life we watched three pair(of the five pair currently known to be in the country) of brightly marked Collared Pratincole land nearby.  At one point, we saw a family of Marsh Harriers, clearly displaying the different colors, patterns and sizes of male, female, and juvenile, work the field next to us and finally land and pose for a close inspection in the scope.   A major thunderstorm loomed up, but passed safely to the north of us as we walked back to the car and drove to a delightful lunch spot next to a birding tower.  Here Janos outdid himself with special salads and spreads, dry salami, cheese, and sweet Hungarian pepper sandwiches on wonderful rolls, and icy cold Hungarian beer.  During lunch, birds were always in sight over the fields.  We were impressed with kiting kestrels, hobbys and marsh harriers soaring over the fields, and four cuckoos as well as a pair of golden orioles that flew over us.
Afterwards, we continued our tour of the Kiskunsag.  At one point we set up in an exquisite field of wildflowers on top of an enormous hill built by prehistoric people of the Kiskunsag.  During the afternoon, there was wonderful birding at every stop and we were especially delighted by an overwhelming number of blue rollers and, at one stop, a Little Owl who stared fiercely at us from atop a hay bale.  At last, we arrived at our final night's lodging, a wonderful old Tanya (farmstead) that has been converted into a small pension where we again had a two-story suite.  That evening, we visited an historic Hungarian ranch where we were treated to a display of horsemanship.  Although our purpose was to avoid "tourist" attractions, the fine animals and exceptional horsemanship was an outstanding addition to our visit, particularly the demonstration of four-in-hand driving at which the Hungarians are the best in the world.
After the show, we were invited to a classic goulash dinner and, because it was our wedding anniversary, we were serenaded with Mendelssohn's "Wedding March".  We were also presented by Janos with a fine bottle of Hungarian Tokaji wine and a beautiful book on Hungary's National Parks.
The sixth day, our last day with Hungarian Birdwatching, dawned cloudy. Janos and Bence were worried that we had not yet seen a great bustard, the premier bird of Hungary.  Because of the rain, they had scattered from their usual haunts on the Pusta.  The plan had originally been to drive to Hortobagy to see another Pusta area but that would have cut our remaining birding time in half as we had to be back in Budapest by 5 p.m.  So we decided to stay in the Kiskunsag area. We began our morning with a long walk through the forest plantations near our Tanya pension listening to and seeing many birds.  We played listen-and-look tag with a barred warbler for some 15 minutes before getting a good - if quick-- look.  The walk's highlights were a hunting goshawk, a perfectly posed tree pipit, and an absolutely brilliant pair of goldfinches. Then we were off in a clear but unspoken search for the great bustard.  We drove to a salt lake in the midst of the Pusta with a birding tower near a traditional working sheep farm and looked at what was left of the migratory shore and water birds.    We stopped for an ice cream at a new Czarda beside a canal and watched a moorhen feed pondweed to her three chicks. And then, on a phone wire, as bold as brass  we saw a red phase cuckoo, close enough to completely fill the scope.  Later, we stopped to talk to an Irish artist sketching a nesting pair of red-footed falcon. The artist and his guide had seen a great bustard that morning so we took off in a hurry, eventually driving several miles down a rutted grassy road until we were stopped by a mud puddle that Janos car was not likely to negotiate.  From there, we hiked to an isolated birding tower.  Just before we got there, Bence set up the scope and in the distance was a great bustard!  We went up in the tower and for a long time watched  the single male bustard display and dance.  For no known reason, after the mating season is over, the males go off by themselves and display, throwing back their heads and fluffing their feathers until they look like great white puffballs.  So he danced and we watched, until, to everyone's surprise, two great bustard females showed up and joined the dance.  Our trip was complete.  We hiked back to the car and drove to the same wonderful spot as yesterday, where we enjoyed our last lunch on the Pusta  with celebratory high fives and cheers all round.  The sun was warm and the day was fine and we saw even more golden orioles, red footed falcons and cuckoos.  Then we drove north at a leisurely pace, dropped Bence off near his village, and pulled into our destination in the center of Budapest precisely at 5 pm.
  Karoly met us there and we all said goodbye with heartfelt thank-yous and our best wishes for what seems to us to be a wonderful new enterprise,


Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Little Bittern
Night Heron
Little Egret
Great White Egret
Grey Heron
Purple Heron
Black Stork
Mute Swan
Greylag Goose
Red-crested Pochard
Ferruginous Duck
Tufted Duck
White-tailed Eagle
Marsh Harrier
Hen Harrier
Montagu's Harrier
Fed-footed Falcon
Great Bustard
Black-winged Stilt
Collared Pratincole
Little Ringed Plover
Little Stint
Black-tailed Godwit
Mediterranean Gull
Black-headed Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Common Tern
Whiskered Tern
Black Tern
White-winged Black Tern
Rock Dove
Collared Dove
Turtle Dove
Little Owl
Long-eared Owl
Green Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Middle Spotted Woodpecker
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
Crested Lark
Sand Martin
House Martin
Tree Pipit
Yellow Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
White Wagtail
Black Redstart
Song Thrush
Moustached Warbler
Sedge Warbler
Marsh Warbler
Reed Warbler
Great Reed Warbler
Barred Warbler
Spotted flycatcher
Collared Flycatcher
Long Tailed Tit
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Penduline Tit
Golden Oriole
Red-backed Shrike
Lesser Grey Shrike
Hooded Crow
Carrion Crow
House Sparrow
Tree Sparrow
Reed Bunting
Corn Bunting

Trip Report, Birding in Hungary - 25 July/26 July + 29 July 2005 to meet the local Birdingpals
By Ed.O`Hara and John O`Hara, Ireland

The following is a report of a trip in July 2005 to several locations in Western Hungary on a tour run by, a birding tour company based in Budapest. As my son John [14] was not a birder, the trip would consist of two initial days birding followed by two days sightseeing in Budapest and the final day, birding.

Getting there: 24 July 2005

We flew from Dublin to Budapest with Aer Lingus - a 2 1/2 hour flight.Unfortunately the baggage handlers went on strike as we arrived and so we had to wait three hours before we could claim our luggage.
Dr. Karoly Teleki the tour organiser was waiting for us when we finally cleared passport control. We immediately drove to Tata and reached our destination at 11 pm.
The accommodation for the first two nights was at the Hotel Casablanca in Tata. The room and food were excellent and the staff very friendly and courteous. I would have no hesitation in recommending this hotel to anyone staying in this area.
Tata itself is situated on the edge of the Old Lake, and is one of the 21 areas in Hungary named as a wetland site of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. The lake is drained each winter and this attracts up to 30000 geese and ducks, remarkable when you consider the lake is 2km2.

25 July: Tata Woods and Gerecse Hills.
Weather: Dry and sunny: Temp - 26C.
Dr. Teleki and Antal Bagdi, our guide for the first two days met us after breakfast and we went for a walk in the woods around the hotel for woodpeckers. Within a few minutes we were observing Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Short-toed Treecreepers, Green Woodpeckers, Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, Syrian Woodpeckers and perhaps the most impressive of all the genus, Black Woodpecker. Several other woodland species were also seen Tree Sparrow, Golden Oriole, Nuthatch, Hawfinch Collared Flycatcher, Marsh Tit, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk.
In the afternoon we travelled circa 15 Km north to the Gerecse to locate one of my target species for the trip. We climbed a small hill overlooking a village and scanned the woods to the north within a few minutes a White-tailed Eagle flew over, giving a great view of this huge bird.
However within a few moments the bird I had come to see appeared over the woods, in fact three of them, the majestic Imperial Eagle. We watched these birds for over an hour soaring over the forest, a fantastic sight. On our return down the path to the village we found a family party of Red-backed Shrikes and several Black Redstarts at the village edge.
In the evening a walk along the edge of the lake produced a Siskin and several Night Herons leaving the woods to feed. An owl was briefly observed, probably Long-eared Owl but view was too quick to properly identify.

26 July: Tata Ponds, Kecsked and Ferencmajor Ponds.
Weather: Dry, sun in morning, cloudy afternoon: Temp: 25C.
In the morning we travelled to Tata Ponds and after a short walk along the track we observed, Savi`s Warbler, Marsh Warbler, Penduline Tit, Bearded Tit, Marsh Harrier, Hobby, Turtle Dove, Great White Egret, Little Egret, Spoonbill, Night Heron, Little Ringed Plover, Spotted Redshank,Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Black Tern, Reed Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Curlew, Sandpiper,Black-winged Stilt, Little Stint, Temminck`s Stint, Black Tern, Serin.
After a successful mornings birding, four lifers we drove south to a glider airfield at Kecsked.
The packed lunch provided by the company was excellent and we set up the equipment to await my next target species, Saker. However as the temperature rose so did several gliders stationed at the airfield and any chance of close views were in doubt, so we decided to try the Ferencemajor pond area.
The afternoon birding at Ferencmajor proved very productive. As we arrived we got brilliant views of a White Tailed Eagle overhead, leaving the car three Black Storks flew over and landed in trees only 200m distant. This was followed by Purple Heron, Little Bittern, Great White Egret, Kingfisher. A bird of prey was observed at a great distance, possible Saker. As we walked along the path we observed Savi`s, Reed , Great Reed and Willow Warblers. In the ponds were Greylag Geese, Great Crested Grebes, Grey Herons, Common Terns and Black Terns.

27/28 July: Budapest. Weather: Sunny and very hot: 38C
John and I then spent two days in Budapest, to see the museums and the river Danube. The city was very nice but a heatwave was developing over Hungary and the temperatures rose well above 35C which was hot, even for Hungary. However the street cafés were nice and the ice cream was great.

29 July: Kiskunsag Pusta.
Weather: Hot and sunny: 37C
John and I were relieved to be leaving the city and heading out into the countryside once more to escape the heat, it was a little cooler out of the city. Today we were guided by two new staff members, our guide Bence Kokay and Janos Matolcsy who was driving. Our first stop was an electricity pylon just inside the city limits and there I got my first view of a Saker Falcon sitting near a nest box. After a few minutes it flew to the next pylon, the views were terrific. We next tried a site for Little Crake on the Little Danube, without success. We then proceeded to Kiskunsag and had an excellent packed lunch prepared by Janos. We ate under the veranda of a pub with the temperature at 37C in the shade!. A White Stork flew over, as we ate our meal. Our next stop were fish ponds in Kiskunsag NP and near the pools we saw Roller, Bee-eater Corn Bunting, Montague`s Harrier, Red-backed Shrike, Stonechat, Hooded Crow, Buzzard, Pheasant, Wood Pigeon, Turtle Dove, Kestrel, and another target species for me Lesser Shrike
Yellow legged Gulls, Great White Egrets, Little Egrets, Spoonbill, Purple Heron, Grey Heron, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Little Bittern, Greylag Goose, Black Tern, and an unexpected target bird Pygmy Cormorant. Two birds were sitting on a branch at the edge of the ponds with a Common Cormorant and the difference in size was clearly seen.
We then drove across the pusta to see if we could see the Great Bustard but without success. As evening approached we had to return to the airport to catch our flight home.
We had a wonderful time in Hungary, the birds seen were excellent especially for July which is probably the worst month to go birding, even without the heatwave we experienced during our stay.

I would like to thank the team for their hospitality during our visit and for their additional help they gave us for our visit to Budapest.

The trip list is below:

1) Little Grebe, Tachybaptus ruficollis
2) Great Crested Grebe,Podiceps cristatus
3) Cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo
4) Pygmy Cormorant, Phalacrocorax pygmeus
5) Little Bittern, Ixobrychus minutus
6) Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
7) Little Egret, Egretta garzetta
8) Great White Egret, Egretta alba
9) Grey Heron, Ardea cinerea
10) Purple Heron, Ardea purpurea
11) Black Stork, Ciconia nigra
12) White Stork, Ciconia ciconia
13) Spoonbill, Platalea leucorodia
14) Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
15) Greylag Goose, Anser anser
16) Mallard, Anas platyrchynchos
17) Pochard, Aythya ferina
18) White-tailed Eagle, Haliaeetus albicilla
19) Marsh Harrier, Circus aeruginosus
20) Montagu's Harrier, Circus pygargus
21) Sparrowhawk, Accipiter nisus
22) Buzzard, Buteo buteo
23) Imperial Eagl, Aquila heliaca
24) Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus
25) Hobby, Falco subbuteo
26) Saker, Falco cherrug
27) Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
28) Moorhen, Gallinula chloropus
29) Coot, Fulica atra
30) Black-winged Stilt, Himantopus himantopus
31) Little Ringed Plover, Charadrius dubius
32) Lapwing, Vanellus vanellus
33) Temminck's Stint, Calidris temminckii
34) Curlew Sandpiper, Calidris ferruginea
35) Dunlin, Calidris alpina
36) Ruff, Philomachus pugnax
37) Snipe, Gallinago gallinago
38) Black-tailed Godwit, Limosa limosa
39) Spotted Redshank, Tringa erythropus
40) Redshank, Tringa totanus
41) Greenshank, Tringa nebularia
42) Green Sandpiper, Tringa ocropus
43) Wood Sandpiper, Tringa glareola
44) Common Sandpiper, Actitis hypoleucos
45) Black-headed Gull, Larus ridibundus
46) Yellow-legged Gull, Larus cachinnans
47) Common Tern, Sterna hirundo
48) Black Tern, Chlidonias niger
49) Rock Dove, Columba livia f. domestica
50) Woodpigeon, Columba palumbus
51) Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
52) Turtle Dove, Streptopelia turtur
53) Kingfisher, Alcedo atthis
54) Bee-eater, Merops apiaster
55) Roller, Coracias garrulus
56) Green Woodpecker, Picus viridis
57) Black Woodpecker, Dryocopus martius
58) Great Spotted Woodpecker, Dendrocopos major
59) Syrian Woodpecker, Dendrocopos syriacus
60) Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Dendrocopos medius
61) Skylark, Alauda arvensis
62) Sand Martin, Riparia riparia
63) Swallow, Hirundo rustica
64) House Martin, Delichon urbica
65) Yellow Wagtail, Motacilla flava
66) White Wagtail, Motacilla alba
67) Robin, Erithacus rubecula
68) Black Redstart, Phoenicurus ochruros
69) Stonechat, Saxicola torquata
70) Blackbird, Turdus merula
71) Song Thrush, Turdus philomelos
72) Savi's Warbler, Locustella luscinioides
73) Sedge Warbler, Acrocephalus
74) Marsh Warbler, Acrocephalus palustris
75) Reed Warbler, Acrocephalus scirpaceus
76) Great Reed Warbler, Acrocephalus arundinaceus
77) Blackcap, Sylvia atricapilla
78) Chiffchaff, Phylloscopus collybita
79) Spotted Flycatcher, Muscicapa striata
80) Collared Flycatcher, Ficedula albicollis
81) Bearded Tit, Panurus biarmicus
82) Long-tailed Tit, Aegithalos caudatus
83) Marsh Tit, Parus palustris
84) Blue, Parus caeruleus
85) Great Tit, Parus major
86) Nuthatch, Sitta europaea
87) Short-toed Treecreeper, Certhia brachydactyla
88) Penduline Tit, Remiz pendulinus
89) Golden Oriole, Oriolus oriolus
90) Red-backed Shrike, Lanius collurio
91) Lesser, Lanius minor
92) Magpie, Pica pica
93) Rook, Corvus frugilegus
94) Hooded Crow, Corvus corone cornix
95) Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
96) House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
97) Tree Sparrow, Passer montanus
98) Chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs
99) Serin, Serinus serinus
100) Greenfinch, Carduelis chloris
101) Goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis
102) Hawfinch, Coccothraustes coccothraustes
103) Reed Bunting, Emberiza schoeniclus
104) Corn Bunting, Miliaria calandra

Last update 23/01/2013